Friday, January 22, 2010

Questions about policing and justice

I have two questions about the long-running negotiations on the devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly.

First: Why are Sinn Féin are so keen to get these powers devolved? For some years I’ve been perplexed about this. Indeed, Sinn Féin’s Ard Comhairle meets tomorrow and the party are so keen to see progress that they may, um, withdraw from talks and perhaps from the Executive altogether.

I can understand sitting in the Assembly as a tactic on the strategic road towards reunification, administering popular areas such as health, education (in the early days) and agriculture, to emphasis your fitness for all-Ireland government – although that capability has been looking a little tarnished recently. But I can’t understand the readiness to take on responsibility for the state’s legitimate use of force through the courts and police service, which is a far more fundamental acceptance of Partition. In addition, by participating in the administration of justice there is an understanding that if the state maintains order through the consent of the people, no-one else is entitled to take up this role – all ‘other’ armed groups are simply criminals.

Secondly: why is devolution of policing and justice so important anyway? Yes, it was in the Good Friday Agreement and a date was set in the St Andrew’s Agreement, but the deadline of May 2008 is long gone. We have District Policing Partnerships, supported by all parties, which are working well and have gained public confidence, ditto the Policing Board (and incidentally, why can’t the DPPs take responsibility for their local parades decisions?). The PSNI is already very accountable, given that we are a society emerging from conflict. It is argued that devolution of policing and justice completes Northern Ireland’s devolution project. But the UK’s devolved governments have different powers anyway, so it’s hard to argue that devolution has reached its end point in any of them.

However, I don’t believe the DUP’s claim that there’s a lack of public confidence in this area. My perception is that the public seems not to mind either way, but it’s our politicians who have a lack of confidence in each other. That’s not only stopping ‘P&J’ but also other difficult decisions in the Executive and the Assembly. Maybe the last thing that’s needed is yet more responsibility flung into a dysfunctional system.


nineteensixtyseven said...

Simple answer to that:

Timothy Belmont said...

Why do they want policing and Justice devolved? That is what perplexes me; the first question I posed.

Timothy Belmont said...

I've just read the BT article and my response is that I never accepted Patten; nor the title of the new police force in NI.

There is no common ground between myself and Irish republicans. I wish a British police force with the same uniform and badging as the Met in London. My position is consistent.

I heard someone on Radio 4 saying that Adams complained that Unionists wouldn't even share an elevator with him at Stormont. I wonder why...

DC said...

Re above - Please bear with me on this one

It's the constituencies from whence they came, both parties rose to power under some seriously intense negative and neurotic campaigning, hence being positive and forward-thinking is nigh impossible (and even when it does happen it looks bogus and awkward - it also fails to motivate their own base).

Why is it as an aside yet still relevant that Germany after the horrors of 1940 and the cold war is able to wave its flag again in a civilised way - and to be respected once again across Europe's political system. After those serious stigmas associated with those atrocious crimes?

Is it because that that country has been mature and offered an 'ever-present acknowledgement of wrong-doing', thus allowing it to move on, particularly together as one - post 1989 fall of the wall.

(See this:

'But what was the main problem? Was it that the tradition of the private sector had been dismantled? Or was it the lack of the rule of law and institutions? Or could it be that the necessary moral foundations weren’t there, or had been broken?'

Havel: It’s all connected. On the one hand a legal framework had to be created, and that took time. But it’s also true that a legal order can only function if there is a moral order. A person without morals can find loopholes in the best legal system. But I have the impression it’s still not widely recognized that a moral code is a precondition for legal order which, in turn, must exist in order for freedom to develop—freedom in all areas, from culture to business.

I have to say that the DUP and UUP now forming an electoral compact should Stormont elections happen so as to keep out SF part of this "finding loopholes" in the system. Rather than blame the DUP for a corrosive bit of GFA tinkering!!!

Adams and SF and the DUP are all immature (there is psychological proof of this behaviour at the election count of him "cockadoodle-doing plus many others - his silly "strangulation of language" as well) and at times both leaders appear narcissistic. Almost compromised by it.

I'd like to end with this re policing and justice in comparison with Germany overcoming its stigmas:

'I’d like to switch topics, to the remains of dictatorship. In Germany we have an agency that processes the Stasi files. It’s opened a lot of wounds, but also helped toward reconciliation. But we repeatedly hear calls to finally quit digging up the past. In the Czech Republic a similar agency was formed last year, the Zatschek Agency. Why so late? What were your thoughts about how these matters should be handled?'

Havel: From the very beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty. We didn’t know how to handle it, and nowhere was it handled well. Maybe Germany dealt with it the best, relatively. I think the young generation is the first that might be able to learn to handle this history. I don’t think that things should be kept secret, but specific topics need to be seen as a whole, with all the historical connections and not taken out of context. I always say, the communists existed for the first time in history. Thus no one had any experience dealing with it. Post-communism then was also a first in history, and for the same reasons we didn’t have enough experience. It’s been 20 years, but we’re still searching for answers.


DC said...

I don’t think that things should be kept secret, but specific topics need to be seen as a whole, with all the historical connections and not taken out of context.

I think the above line from the ex Czech President is well put.

It could be used to bring into acceptance the need for a British explanation of those injustices by the state but it is also a counter to Adams' "no hierarchy of victims". It is a counter but it recognises that specific issues must be seen as whole, that is the wider conflict, but it also admits that situations should not be taken out of context.

Like relating the motivations of a terrorist bomber who was killed in carrying the bomb in transit to that of a person or child killed by accident from a bomb left to be triggered by the army yet killed them instead.

DC said...

And just finally re Adams' SF being neurotic, might this below prove it:

Main article: Jung's theory of neurosis

Carl Jung found his approach particularly fitting for people who are successfully adjusted by normal social standards, but who nevertheless have issues with the meaning of their life.

I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life (Jung, [1961] 1989:140).

Garibaldy said...

I think the McCann article 1967 put up does get at a lot of the reasons for the importance of this to the Provos. At the same time, you must remember that the police have been seen by many nationalists as a unionist police force, and with good cause. Not least the importance of 1969 in the mentality of nationalists. How do you ensure Bombay Street can't happen again? Have control over the police. Not that I think for a second the Provos think that there is any possibility of another Bombay Street, but it's of immense symbolic importance.

As for why P&J is a big deal all round. It's the ultimate symbol of a return to normalcy.

As for Timothy Belmont's point about the same uniform as the Met. Why? Other UK police forces don't. On top of which, the Met is hardly a signing example of how things are done. Just ask the family of Jean Charles de Menezes.

As for sharing lifts. I'm no fan of Adams. But I don't think people who have allied with the UDA and UVF in strike committees, or shared platforms with Billy Wright and Pastor Peebles are as clean of responsibility for bloodshed as they like to pretend to themselves.

nineteensixtyseven said...


Well that's certainly a few some people hold but not Sinn Féin and I think they have saw progress on Patten and the name and now wish Policing and Justice to fully devolved. It looks better for them politically to have a say in policing now that they have accepted the PSNI. Don't underestimate the views of the rank and file and republican communities in steering Sinn Féin; the party have led them so far but they still have to consider their base. It must be remembered too that they don't really accept the state of NI and that explains a lot methinks.

DC said...

Jenny I saw your post there on Slugger, and am in full agreement.

I would comment in support but Mick Fealty has de-registered and banned me from it!

The reason why DPPs aren't used is I think that security issues don't want to be muddled up with domestic police services tailored at the "ordinary decent criminal". Whereas a wee bit of force might have to be used with the other kind.

Re platform for change - it's a good idea. It certainly provides relevant ingredients towards a better final product i.e. better governance.

And one thing that Slugger fails to recognise but which you don't is that reportage and comment on reportage is not what Northern Ireland needs, it needs taste-makers - people who influence for change and be the change they want to see! This can only really come about by entering politics and certainly not from reporting on the existing stuff.

Sometime I feel like saying to Fealty if you've got it so measured stand yourself then, jeez please!

Anonymous said...

I can see why a Unionist would be scarred of the devolution of these powers. Not only is it more power away from London, it will also mean Irish men having a say on how their fellow country men are governed. Also, with the next Stormont election looking like SF will become the biggest party, it seems that they will have the pick of the bunch of what department they take.

Imagine that, someone like Gerry Kelly, a man that spent years inside British prisons, having a say over policing issues. As a Republican I can't wait for the devolution!

Onwards to the Republic!

Jenny Muir said...

nineteensixtyseven - I read the McCann article with interest, and of course he knows the territory better than I do, but it does rather assume P&J is the same as any other public service. To take charge of the service that has such a history, without having complete control of it within a united Ireland, seems to me to be a very high risk strategy. But your later point about the rank and file ties in with my point about the public - most people just want a responsive police service and a safer society, IMO.

Timothy - with respect, you may not accept Patten or the PSNI, but the majority do. As 1967 says, police forces in GB are different - I recall tales of the Met's behaviour during the 1984-5 miner's strike when they were sent to the coalfields, for example. The structure of accountability we have here is terrific compared to what I remember from London.

Jenny Muir said...

DC - it's true that it will take time for politics to settle down here and for trust to develop, and like you (I think) I wonder if SF is able to make the transition. But the other side of my puzzlement at their wish to take on P&J (which is now less puzzling due to some comments here and also on my Facebook page) is the lack of enthusiasm of the DUP for its devolution. You'd think they'd want it, so that they could increase sentences and generally stick it to the English. But I suppose it's easier to moan about it and then say you can do nothing.

Jenny Muir said...

DC - forgot to respond to your last comment: thanks for the support for my Slugger comment. I don't often get much of a response to my comments on Slugger, perhaps if I changed my name from Jenny to James then it might help lol. But Mick has done a great job over the years in a role that's just as important as standing for election, IMO. We need both!

Jenny Muir said...

Garibaldy - 'It's the ultimate symbol of a return to normalcy'.
Precisely. Why vote for a constitutional change if everything's running smoothly as it is?

Anon - I can imagine many people, not only unionists, would have a problem with an ex-prisoner as Justice Minister, but it's an important part of the transition we are going through that if this happens then we have to accept it. Certainly some of the media coverage of the past few days has brought home to me that debates around justice issues are going to be different in the Assembly, given more politicians than usual have experience of the system. Again, not necessarily a bad thing.

However, I wouldn't get your hopes up about SF becoming the largest party: either a more united unionism or the current abuse issues may cut into that.

DC said...

If you listen to the DUP and Sinn Fein the trouble is that you find the DUP doubts SF's ability to put victims at the heart of the justice system, and SF doubts the DUP can put any justice at the heart of the justice system.

The differences as set out about re moral codes and values highlight that.

I wouldn't be big on morals in terms of religious moral principles other than those which prohibit physical and mental / psychological violence, rightly! But I suppose moral codes for Conservatives are important if not fundamental given the moral clarity approach to life that the DUP in particular holds - or so it goes.

I can't really put into words how much appreciate Mick's work on Slugger, but at times you can't help but notice a drop in journalistic impartiality particularly over Breen, which is why I was banned initially re comments about her and finally one over Gerard Hodgkins.

The thing that bugs me is the way journalists drag in the private and personal elements of politicians lives just because they have a public position.

I think there has been a case of trying to catch Adams out, but rather than trying to catch him out over his inconsistency, both Breen and Mick Fealty run the risk of forming their own triangulation.

Whereas it should be a case of going in a straight-ish line to the courts to settle, what we have is the victim, the perpetrator (and Adams associated via family and SF) along with the journalist.

Unfortunately this is a Bermuda triangle into which justice is likely going to fall.

Such journalistic centrism doesn't wash with me nor does journalists demanding politicians to stop being elusive (protection of sources anyone?). Nuff said.

DC said...

By Journalistic centrism I mean half way towards getting justice, in part as a result of telling a story from the victim and in part getting that message out more widely as a result of embarrassing Sinn Fein and Adams.

Trial by media I suppose I mean.

Isn't it funny how we have to wait till Sundays for the scoop rather than pass stories on to the weeklies with an associated fee so as to get the relevant message and info out.

Not a bit of it, it's all about the brand of the paper and a member of the fourth estate asserting her influence in her own establishment. The media.

Vested interests, need I say any more.

nineteensixtyseven said...

"nineteensixtyseven - I read the McCann article with interest, and of course he knows the territory better than I do, but it does rather assume P&J is the same as any other public service. To take charge of the service that has such a history, without having complete control of it within a united Ireland, seems to me to be a very high risk strategy. But your later point about the rank and file ties in with my point about the public - most people just want a responsive police service and a safer society, IMO. "

It is precisely because of the history that Sinn Féin want it devolved, no matter what the risks are. It's because it is NOT like any other public service but because it is the coercive instrument of the state apparatus that it is important to them that it is under 'Irish' control.

I think you might have misunderstood my point about the rank-and-file. Yes, like you say, they are calling for a safer community along with everyone else. But more importantly for the SF leadership's perspective, these people are Irish Republicans and they will be assessing the leadership on delivering what was promised to them. It took a lot of soul searching to work within the institutions of the Northern Ireland State and given that many of those people were in direct conflict with the RUC, they are demanding for political and symbolic reasons that it is devolved out of Westminster. Even if it seems to many people that the SF leadership have 'sold out' ideologically, it would be dangerous to make that assumption and plain wrong to make it about ordinary party members.

Jenny Muir said...

nineteensixtyseven - thanks for this, I am beginning to understand the reason now, but I still think it's a high risk strategy because responsibility for P&J has to be shared with other parties, and as we are seeing at the moment, there are very different views about it.

It's now looking as if the issue will bring down the ASsembly, and surely it's better to defer its devolution if agreement cannot be reached, rather than lose everything else too.

nineteensixtyseven said...


Of course it would be better but SF have a hard-line image as 'defenders' of the interests of the 'nationalist community' to live up to. They can't admit that they sold the electorate a pup over St. Andrews so they must blame it on the DUP, even if that imperils the institutions. It's all politics.

S Pol Haydon said...

The Devolution of policing and justice is very important, firstly you mentioned the main part, it was in the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreemnt). Also why should Westminster decide anything that takes place not just within Northern Ireland but any of the United Kingdom? Self determination is a right of every nation, I have been follwing this circus a writing about it on my blog as of late but put simply its about having some self respect as a nation! No nation should be controlled by another let alone something so simple as policing and justice; the DUP are dragging their feet as per usual and continuing a triade of Unionist conservative rhetoric. No matter what your view on Ireland being united or part of the United Kingdom, it is vital we have these rights which are simple rights of every nation.

Anonymous said...

Well Said

Jenny Muir said...

nineteensixtyseven: good point, essentially SF have got themselves into a corner, see Malachi O'D in the Guardian today:

Pol: 'self-determination is the right of every nation', well not in an interconnected globalised world where some nations are more powerful than others, it ain't. Also within the UK there is more and more of a debate about what the 'nation' means anyway, and I think federalism would be a better solution than the partial devolution we have at the moment. So while acknowledging the historical context, how about thinking through how this island might look in the future rather than assuming the model will in some way look like the past? And if a united Ireland remains your preferred solution, it will have to be argued for pragmatically as well as emotionally (and yes I do understand the emotion involved)

nineteensixtyseven said...

I agree with Jenny that the 'nation' is a very woolley and difficult concept. It always was- witness the debates in the Second and Third Internationals over what national self-determination actually meant, the Wilsonian versus imperial conceptions of statehood after WW1, the differences between the League of Nations and UN ideological position on the rights of minorities within nation-states, the arguments between Hobsbawm, Breuilly and Anderson on what nationalism means in an historical context. I do, however, think the democratic argument for more localised control over policing and justice is pretty hard to refute.

Jenny Muir said...

In the abstract, the argument is irrefutable - but in our particular case it is so hedged around with caveats that you wonder whether anyone really wants it. But if the DUP is really holding out for the abolition of the Parades Commission as a condition, then they are the villans right now, without a doubt.

nineteensixtyseven said...

'But if the DUP is really holding out for the abolition of the Parades Commission as a condition, then they are the villans right now, without a doubt.'

Yeah, it was agreed looong ago in principle and the DUP are prevaricating so in the last analysis this crisis is of their making.

Jenny Muir said...

It's not in the St Andrew's Agreement. Not only that's if you want to abolish the Parades Commission it seems to methat you are better placed to do so if you have control of P&J. But statements today make it clear that the DUP has backed itself into a corner on this one.